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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

OSHA Clarifies – Workers Must Understand Training

Posted by Shivi Kakar

May 17, 2010 5:56:44 AM

Paula Kaufmann - CIH
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued a few memorandums that indicate a strong emphasis on enforcement of existing standards. One very important action is OSHA directing its compliance officers (the enforcers!) to check and make sure that workers are being trained in a language or a vocabulary they can understand.  A very recent OSHA directive applies to training workers in agriculture, construction, general industry, and maritime work places.

Since understanding the health and physical hazards present in the workplace along with the appropriate controls for protection is fundamental to a safe work environment, it is obvious that one needs to be trained in a language that is understood. Health and safety programs cannot be effective if the folks that programs are intended to protect cannot understand them!

Effective training (good teaching) is the key to transferring information from the experts to the workers who use this information. As we all learned during our school years, we learn best from teachers who are prepared, knowledgeable, engaging AND teach us at the level (or language) we understand. I learn the most from courses that encourage student interaction and involvement. At Emilcott, our goal is that our students learn how to identify hazards and properly use the workplace controls available to protect them from exposure to these hazards. Emilcott offers health and safety training classes in English and Spanish and more for just that reason!!

Some thoughts to consider, in writing this directive, OSHA did not need any new regulations or standards; it has always existed in the regulations and standards (as Diego Tolosa mentioned in a blog posting last year). Also, this is the first time such a clear directive has been written to the compliance officers (and OSHA-required training has been “on the books” for about 40 years)!!!

Cheers to OSHA for clarifying these requirements as many workers will benefit. Let’s get the news out to employers.

Have you experienced a situation where health and safety training was presented only in English and some of the students only had minimal English fluency? Perhaps these workers spoke Spanish, Polish, Chinese, or Portuguese (this is common in the New York City metropolitan area). How did the course subject matter get communicated to these students? If tested in their native language, could these students demonstrate that they learned “enough” from the English-only training? How do you accommodate a multi-lingual workplace (our melting pot)?

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